Rocking Walnut Bassinet

August 17, 2015

This rocking bassinet presents some interesting joinery challenges.  The side assemblies splay out at 10.5 degrees and the spindles splay in at 6.5 degrees.  The entire frame is constructed with integral mortise and tenon joinery.

More details and pictures of the finished bassinet:

Video Script:

Earlier this year I found these walnut slabs listed on craigslist. The tree that these came from was planted by the grandfather of the gentleman that I bought them from. He planted the tree in the late 1930s and the tree came down in a storm in 2008. They had the tree cut into lumber and the gentleman I bought the slabs from used almost all of it for his own woodworking. He had recently decided to get out of woodworking so he had sold his entire shop. A few months later he decided to get rid of the last of the walnut to make space for other things.

For this project, I decided to use the narrowest and longest of the three because it had some really bad cracks that would prevent me from using it whole or getting large project parts out of it. Here’s a look at some of the cracks. it was challenging but after spending some time laying out the parts it looked like I was going to get a pretty good yield. on this chuck I laid out for 6 pieces of square stock on the right, one more square stock on the right, and a rocker on the bottom. I used my beam saw to make the rough cross cut. Now looking at the end grain of the cut, we can clearly see why this slab is in such bad shape: the pith was left in the slab causing cracks to emanate from it as the slab dried. I’ll start processing this chuck into parts first by ripping it in two. I have that nice solid area on the left that I want to separate to process separately. That cracked half didn’t have much holding it together but luckily as I had thought, I’ll still be able to get some parts out of these pieces, like here is a piece of square stock. Next I want to get the solid part ready to be resawed. I’ll flatten one face at the jointer and square up an edge. Although not required for resawing, I ran the other face through the planer. I wanted to make sure I could see if there were any defects that I wanted to avoid. This section turned out to be very nice, lots of clear grain and no cracks to deal with. It was pretty simple to resaw this in half and here are the two resawed halves. Now I can rip my square stock out of the resawed halves. The finished dimension of the square stock is going to be 1.5″ square and I’m rough cutting them to be somewhere around 2″ square. Next I’ll take a moment to refer back to my drawing to see which parts I still need.

Back to the slab to cut another chunk off. Again, I’ll spend some time looking it over, trying to find the best way to cut it into project parts. A draw a guideline through the pith so I can split this in two, similarly to how I approached the first chuck. The cracked portion on the right looks like it will yield me another rocker. Same thing with the bigger piece again, I’ll resaw it and then cut my stock out of it. The crack in this piece didn’t end up being an issue since this chunk is longer than I need for most of my parts.

Now the easy part: I’ll flatten and square up each project part on the jointer and then I can plane them all to their necessary dimensions. As I normally do, I did this over 2 sessions allowing the parts to rest between millings. I then spent some time laying out the parts for each side assembly.

Now I can get started on the side assembly joinery. At my mitersaw station, I’ll cut the splay angle on the top of the stiles. At the table saw, I’ll cut them to length using my cross cut sled and a stop block. Next I’ll cut the top rails to length making sure I have opposing angles at both ends. Now for some joinery. I’ll be joining the rails to the stiles with angled tenons and square mortises. I’ll lay out the top mortises on one stile and transfer the stop and start points to the other three stiles. I’m just going to be cutting that top mortise for now. And this is my quick sanity check to make sure I have those mortises laid out on the correct side of the stile. I’ll set up the mortiser to cut these mortises. One way I’ve found that makes it easy to get the bit centered is to draw a center line on the work piece and plunge the bit until the point contacts the work leaving a dimple. This will show you which way you need to adjust the fence. These mortises are a half inch wide, 7/8″ long and 1 1/8″ deep. Now I can start cutting the tenons. Now I’ll start laying out the tenons on the top rails. I measure over 1 inch from the end and make a mark. I use a bevel gauge set to the same angle that I cut the top of the stiles to to scribe the angled shoulder. I’ll use a square to carry the line across the other face, rotate the stock and continue carrying the line with the bevel gauge. Rotate once more and carry the line with the square. If everthing is set right, that line should match up on the last corner. At the table saw, I’ll use the miter gauge and the dado stack to remove the waste from the tenon. Here I’m using an offcut to set the height of the blade.   Once I have the height set I’ll cut the tenons on my actual work pieces. I’ll make one pass with the miter gauge angled in one direction and for the second pass, I’ll swing the miter gauge to roughly the same angle on the other side of 90 degrees. I’m not paying attention to what angle I set the miter gauge to since I’m not cutting all the way to the shoulder line here. Back at the bench, I laid out the other 2 mortises on each stile and cut them with the mortiser. Now I’ll clean up the tenons on the top rail with some chisels. I’ll remove the majority of the waste first before coming back with a wide chisel and chopping right on the line. Next, I need to cut the angle into the tenon. I’ll lay that out based on the mortise width and make some cut lines that are squared off the tenon shoulder. I’ll cut on those lines with my dovetail saw. I’ll make another cut to remove the waste and then clean up the shoulder area with a chisel. Next I can start working on the middle rail. I cut one end to the splay angle and now I’ll work on cutting the tenon on this end. Again, I’ll measure in and wrap the shoulder line all the way around the piece. I’ll remove the bulk of the waste with the table saw and then chop back to the shoulder line at the bench. With that tenon cut, I can lay the rail in place and mark the other shoulder location and it’s length. And the same thing as the top rail, I’ll mark out and cut the angled tenon. With the middle rail fit, I’ll move on to the rocker. This process is the same as the middle rail: I’ll create the tenon on one end, rest the rocker between the stiles to mark the length and shoulder location, and then I can cut the other tenon.

With the joinery cut, I’ll work on the rockers. I started by making a template of the rocker. The radius of the rocker’s curve is about 77″ so I set up a long trammel with my router to cut the arc. Now to get the other side of the rocker I need to move the router the desired width of the rocker, 1.5″, plus the width of the router bit I’m using, .25″, so an inch and a quarter. I’m moving the whole router and trammel assembly relative to the template stock.   I’m not changing the radius. Once I have the router move, I’ll cut the other arc. Now I’ll trace the shape onto the rocker and roughly cut it out at the bandsaw. I’m going to flush the rocker to the template with a router but first, I had some defects that I wanted to fill. I’m using some epoxy with a bit on tint. Now I can start flushing up the rocker. I’m only doing the inside curve right now. I’ll do the outside curve once the side is glued up so I can flush the rocker to the stiles.

Next I’ll work on the panels in the side assemblies. I start by cutting 3/4″ wide grooves around the top section of the side assembly. The grooves in the top and middle rail run all the way thtough and the grooves on the stiles are stopped. I’ll lay the side assembly on my panel stock to find an orientaion that I like and then trace the shape onto the panel stock. I’ll then extend the lines so the panel will go into the grooves. And then I can cut it out at the bandsaw. Next I’ll finesse the panel so it fits correctly. With the panels fit, I’ll go ahead and apply a few coats of finish to prefinish them before assembly.

Next I’ll start working on the rails which will connect the two side assemblies together. The top rail needs to be a parallelogram to match the splay angle of the side assembly. I’ll make on rip cut to establish the angle on one side and then adjust the fence to give a final width that matches the thickness of the side’s stiles. And I’ll cut the top and bottom rails to length with the crosscut sled. And the last thing at the table saw is to cut the shoulders on all the rails. Now another sanity check to make sure that the mattress will fit correctly before I cut the mortises for the lower connecting rails. That looks good so now I’ll lay out and cut the mortises. Notice on my layout that I’ve offset the mortise location top to bottom to avoid the groove for the panel. And just like the other mortises, I’ll cut these as well at the mortiser. Then I can cut the tenon on the connecting rail to fit.

I’m going to glue up the side assemblies first. To make clamping really easy, I’ll make some wedges that will allow me to clamp across the assembly. I made these wedges at the same angle as the stile’s splay. Before the actual glue up, I’ll glue these wedges to the stiles and when the glue dries, I’ll glue up the side assembly. Using these wedges, I can put a clamp right across the joints. When the assembly is dry, I can remove the wedges with a swift mallet hit. Since I made these blocks out of cedar, it is the cedar fibers that fail since they are weaker than both the glue and the walnut.

Next I’ll flush up the bottom of the rockers. Now I’ll cut the mortises for the upper connecting rail. I waited until now to cut this mortise since it will slightly intersect the mortise for the top rail. Doing it this way, I mortised through the top rail’s tenon so I didn’t have to worry about adjusting the two tenons to coexist in the same area. Now I can cut the tenon on the end of the top connecting rail. Like the other tenons, I’ll remove the bulk of the waste at the table saw and get it’s width sized to the mortise. Once I have it sized, I’ll mark the length using the mortise as refererence and cut it to length with the dovetail saw. Now just a bit of clean up around the base of the tenon. A few test fits later, and the tenon fits snugly into the mortise. With all those connecting rails joined, I can test fit the whole thing together and see if it actually rocks. There’s some true happieness right there!

Next up are the spindles. I milled up some of the offcuts from the changing table build. I planed these to a bit more than a half inch and I’ll rip the square stock out of these. I’ll mount these on the lathe and roughly turn them down to round. I’ll also turn a taper on the tailstock end to make the next step easier. Once the spindle is rough turned, I’ll take it over to the bench and force it through the 1/2″ hole in my dowel plate. The tapered end makes it easier to get the spindle started. Next I’ll cut all the spindles to the length that I need at the table saw. I’m going to be using 12 per side and I also made a few extra just in case. I’ll take the spindles back to the lathe and mount them in the chuck to be sanded. I’m sanding here with 180 grit. Sanding with the lathe running makes smoothing these out really quick. Once they look even, I’ll stop the lathe and hand sand with the grain to remove the cross grain scratches. Now I need to drill the holes in the rails for the spindles. I start by capturing the angle that the holes will need to be drilled at. I use a straight edge to connect the corners of the lower and upper rail and use my bevel gauge to copy the angle. Next I’ll lay out the hole locations starting with marking a center line down the rail. Next I’ll use my dividers to divide out the length so I have 12 evenly spaced holes. I made a cradle to hold the rails at the correct angle for drilling. The 2 by material that I used for the base is ripped at to the angle that I captured earlier and I added a scrap piece of melamine to hold the rail. With all the holes drilled, I can install the spindles for a test fit. It was a little finicky to get all the spindles and holes lined up but I found working from one end to the other seemed to work best. And another preview of the completed project!

The last thing I need to add is the mattress support. I’m going to mount a cleat to the inside of the lower rail to support the mattress support boards. I start by running a groove in the two lower rails. Next I can make the cleats. I’m just rabbeting these pieces to leave a tongue that will fit into the groove I cut into the rails. And I finessed the fit of the cleats with the shoulder plane.

Now it’s time for the final glue up. I’m using epoxy for this glue up since I’m going to need a lot of working time to get all these spindles installed. I add glue to all the holes and then drop a spindle into each hole. Then I’ll work on getting the spindles into the top rail. Once I have that assembly I’ll glue it into the side assemblies. I’ll use 4 clamps to pull the rails tight and then I’ll spend a little time cleaning up the squeeze out with some acetone.   Now I can apply the finish. I applied 3 coats of general finishes arm-r-seal sanding between coats with 600 grit sandpaper. Doing only 3 coats of finish left a nice close to the wood feel.

The last thing I made were a pair of anti rocking shoes from the offcuts from the rockers. I started by cleaning up the bandsaw cuts with my compass plane. To make these slide on and off easily, I need to make them a bit wider than the rockers so I glued some thin strips of wood onto the cut offs before also glueing on one of the side pieces. I cleaned up the extra of the thin stock with a chisel and card scraper. and then glued on the other side. I trimmed the side pieces and then cut them to length.


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  • Jim Thompson says:

    Thanks, Matt. You are very creative. I am hoping to build the bassinet as a gift for friend so wanted to see if you thought they hold up. Great family!

  • Jim Thompson says:

    Great looking bassinet, Matt! Just one question…does the thing feel solid? You have your son in it so you must feel comfortable with the design. How do you feel it will hold up as he gets more active?

  • mary o hanlon says:

    I love this design, it looks fantastic. Any change you’d consider selling plans for constructing it??

    • Thank you! At this point, I have no intentions of selling plans for the bassinet or crib. Too many liability issues surrounding those items.

  • Bill Joanitis says:

    Great work, very professional, enjoy your videos. Thanks

    • Thank you!

  • […] Matt Cremona is an awesome woodworker. In his latest video he made a rocking bassinet from walnut that just turned out beautiful.  The design is pretty sweet and really shows how different a design can be, but still perfectly functional.  Check it out!   You can also check out his website article on the build here: Matt Cremona’s Rocking Bassinet […]